This review, by David Culbert, appeared in Biblio, Vol. 2, Number 6, June 1997. It is reprinted with their permission.
Late Fire Late Snow: New and Uncollected Poems by Robert Francis. Robert Francis (1901 - 1987) lived by himself in a three-room house that he named "Fort Juniper," in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1926 until his death. Robert Frost called him "of all the great neglected poets - the greatest." To do something about this neglect, David Bourbeau, Henry Lyman, and a number of leading photographers, printers, and students of fine printing have produced a wonderful monument to a wonderful poet with this limited edition of Late Fire Late Snow.
Bourbeau reveals in the design of this book good reason to call himself a bibliotech. "Bookbinding is an art, as architecture is an art; a book, like a building, must be designed, engineered, and constructed for practical use, as well as for aesthetic delight. The binding is not merely a fancy cover, the facade, but all of the elements, seen and unseen, that form the foundation and the structure of the book," Bourbeau explains. "As a collaborative artist, it is my job to see that the form is ideally balanced with the content to produce a unique, unified artistic statement."
Bourbeau succeeds on all counts with Late Fire Late Snow. First, the two portraits speak volumes. One has simply to examine the trade edition to see the difference fine printing makes. In the trade edition, you cannot see what the frontispiece of the fine press edition so poignantly reveals - a sympathetic but frank portrait of the poet going blind. It is the Fort Juniper's photogravure that, carefully toned, makes it possible to see "Sightless Eyes."
Francis spent much of his creative life struggling over paradoxes,
something he addressed in his brilliant The Black Hood:
Thus do I praise duplicity and damn it.
I hate equivocation and I am it.
Francis returns to this theme in Paradox, which suggested to Bourbeau the design of Late Fire Late Snow.
A raspberry often
hides itself even
while publicizing itself.
Red deep red
yes, but half-
concealed in leaves.
What raspberry picker
does not knowthe teasing paradox?
The same paradox
that I myself
(forgive me) am.
On the facing page, Francis, in a small image, peers at us, confidently, safely behind the shoulder of a visitor.
Bourbeau creates the raspberry's shyness, contrasting the white of the cover with the crimson endpaper, whose deckle edge, pasted down, is just visible when the book is opened. The most unusual feature of the bound-in endleaf is that one sees a crimson stub, made from two sheets of the endleaf, a pastedown plus flyleaf, tipped on at the fore-edge; here, with design genius, is the fine binding equivalent of the reclusive raspberry.
Abe Lerner, in Designing a Book: Typophile Chap Books Bibliography (1993), offers a recent, superb discussion as to what constitutes good design in fine printing. He concludes by invoking the source, one likes to imagine, of Bourbeau's inspiration: "Over the whole hovers Apollo, guardian of beauty, who, along with his many other tasks, gently guides the hand of the designer."
David Culbert collects modern fine printing. A professor of history at Louisiana State University, he is editor of Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television and co-editor, with John Chambers, of World War II, Film, and History. Published by Oxford University Press, 1996. (David Bourbeau is a member of the New England Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.)